Bodhisattva (from bodhi meaning knowledge and sattva meaning living beings) a man seeking spiritual nothingness or nirvana. To achieve the knowledge that relieves living beings of their sorrow, one has to accept repeated births. It is said that Gautam Buddha was reborn 550 times in his attempt to acquire salvation for living creatures. During these early incarnations, he was known as bodhisattva. He finally attained enlightenment or buddhattva in 528 BC, traditionally on the day of Baixakhi Purnima, the full moon in the month of Baisakh. The stories of Buddha's different reincarnations are known as jatakas. Bodhisattva as an ideal has been given the highest place in Mahayana buddhism.
As Mahayana Buddhists consider themselves to be bodhisattvas, Mahayana is also called bodhisattvayana. To bring about bliss in the world is the ultimate aim of a bodhisattva. This concern for the happiness of all living beings is known as bodhichitta. With the achievement of bodhichitta, the ultimate aim is achieved, enabling a human being to acquire nirvana. This philosophy is described in detail in Kshemendra's Bodhisattvavadanakalpalata.
A bodhisattva assumes different forms according to the order of rebirth. His first appearance is as avalokiteshvar or the fountain of kindness. His next image is of manjushri bodhisattva or the fountain of wisdom. His subsequent images are vajrapani, vajragarbha, jnanagarbha, ksitigarbha, ratnagarbha, akashgarbha, suryagarbha and maitreya. This concept of different forms is essentially based on the earlier incarnations of the Buddha. This concept of bodhisattva has spread from India to the whole of Asia including China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim. [Rebatapriya Barua]